Comet C 2017 K2 (PanSTARRS)

Imaged on June 20 2022, comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS) shares this wide telescopic field of view with open star cluster IC 4665 and bright star Beta Ophiuchi, near a starry edge of the Milky Way. On its maiden voyage to the inner Solar System from the dim and distant Oort cloud, this comet PanSTARRS was initially spotted over five years ago, in May 2017. Then it was the most distant active inbound comet ever found, discovered when it was some 2.4 billion kilometers from the Sun. That put it between the orbital distances of Uranus and Saturn. Hubble Space Telescope observations indicated the comet had a large nucleus less than 18 kilometers in diameter. Now visible in small telescopes C/2017 K2 will make its closest approach to planet Earth on July 14 and closest approach to the Sun this December. Its extended coma and developing tail are seen here at a distance of some 290 million kilometers, a mere 16 light-minutes away. via NASA

Solar System Family Portrait

Yes, but have you ever seen all of the planets at once? A rare roll-call of planets has been occurring in the morning sky for much of June. The featured fisheye all-sky image, taken a few mornings ago near the town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, caught not only the entire planet parade, but the Moon between Mars and Venus. In order, left to right along the ecliptic plane, members of this Solar System family portrait are Earth, Saturn, Neptune, Jupiter, Mars, Uranus, Venus, Mercury, and Earth. To emphasize their locations, Neptune and Uranus have been artificially enhanced. The volcano just below Mercury is Licancabur. In July, Mercury will move into the Sun’s glare but reappear a few days later on the evening side. Then, in August, Saturn will drift past the direction opposite the Sun and so become visible at dusk instead of dawn. The next time that all eight planets will be simultaneously visible in a morning sky will be in 2122. via NASA

Mercury from Passing BepiColombo

Which part of the Moon is this? No part — because this is the planet Mercury. Mercury’s old surface is heavily cratered like that of Earth’s Moon. Mercury, while only slightly larger than Luna, is much denser and more massive than any Solar System moon because it is made mostly of iron. In fact, our Earth is the only planet more dense. Because Mercury rotates exactly three times for every two orbits around the Sun, and because Mercury’s orbit is so elliptical, visitors on Mercury could see the Sun rise, stop in the sky, go back toward the rising horizon, stop again, and then set quickly over the other horizon. From Earth, Mercury’s proximity to the Sun causes it to be visible only for a short time just after sunset or just before sunrise. The featured image was captured last week by ESA and JAXA’s passing BepiColombo spacecraft as it sheds energy and prepares to orbit the innermost planet starting in 2025. via NASA

The Gum Nebula over Snowy Mountains

The Gum Nebula is so large and close it is actually hard to see. This interstellar expanse of glowing hydrogen gas frequently evades notice because it spans 35 degrees — over 70 full Moons — while much of it is quite dim. This featured spectacular 90-degree wide mosaic, however, was designed to be both wide and deep enough to bring up the Gum — visible in red on the right. The image was acquired late last year with both the foreground — including Haba Snow Mountain — and the background — including the Milky Way’s central band — captured by the same camera and from the same location in Shangri-La, Yunnan, China. The Gum Nebula is so close that we are only about 450 light-years from the front edge, while about 1,500 light-years from the back edge. Named for a cosmic cloud hunter, Australian astronomer Colin Stanley Gum (1924-1960), the origin of this complex nebula is still being debated. A leading theory for the origin of the Gum Nebula is that it is the remnant of a million year-old supernova explosion, while a competing theory holds that the Gum is a molecular cloud shaped over eons by multiple supernovas and the outflowing winds of several massive stars. via NASA